IIT Delhi will now help in India’s fight against hunger, optimise food supply chain with Public Systems Lab

Union minister Piyush Goyal said the Public Sytems Lab was a perfect example of innovation that will rid the country of corruption by bringing efficiency to the Public Distribution System. The lab is expected to make PDS transparent and cut unnecessary movement of foodgrain, reducing transport costs.

The government on Tuesday inaugurated a Public Systems Lab at the Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi, which it said would help provide innovative, sustainable and scalable solutions to make public distribution more effective and efficient.

“Public Sytems Lab is a perfect example of innovation that will contribute towards the development of our nation and rid the country of corruption by bringing efficiency to the public distribution system (PDS),” Consumer Affairs minister Piyush Goyal said after the inauguration.

Goyal said that in India, public food procurement and distribution are crucial programmes in which the lab can play a vital role.

IIT Delhi Director Professor Rangan Banerjee said the institute’s expertise in operations research, industrial engineering, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cyber security was used to develop the Public Systems Lab.

He said that optimising and increasing public health systems’ efficiency improves people’s quality of life. He also expects cutting-edge modelling and hardware and software to improve public service delivery.

“We are partnering with governments and the WFP (World Food Programme). We are also looking at pilots and ways to scale them up. Public Systems Lab will allow researchers to make a difference to society and industry,” he said.

Banerjee said he was hesitant to quantify the tangible benefit of Public Systems Lab and said benefits would happen over a period of time.

“I can quantify benefits in individual pilots like food and transport. There’s scope for improvement in every system with the use of modern techniques and innovation. Over the few years, we can show benefits with various projects,” Banerjee said.

He further said that these techniques could be expanded to other fields and the services sector. “We are working on public systems as they need special focus and which can make a greater impact. In other cases, it can happen through market and competition,” he said.

Wordwide hunger and other crisis

While speaking at the launch, Bishow Parajuli, Country Director, World Food Program India, said the Public Systems Lab was a great initiative. “It brings Artificial Intelligence, operations research and supply chain efficiency to public systems. It improves logistics and warehouse management. The World Food Program was delighted to partner with IIT Delhi for this initiative,” Parajuli said.

He noted that over 330 million people are staring at acute hunger due to the Ukraine war. He also said climate change has shifted weather patterns, displaced people and triggered cyclones, floods and droughts affecting food supply.

“This also leads to an increase in prices globally and loss of jobs due to COVID-19,” he said. Amid this, “India is coming out as a leader in addressing hunger crisis”, he said, adding that “food is a basic right and what India has done with PMGKY (Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana) is a great example”.

Goyal also spoke on how India has emerged as “a role model for the world in dealing with food security in the wake of the (COVID-19) pandemic”. “Over 80 crore will benefit from public food procurement and distribution under the National Food Security program,” the minister said.

India’s innovation and food security

The WFP country director lauded India for introducing innovations in food security. “India introduced green ATM where PDS beneficiaries can get ration using thumb impression. We can bring the private sector to partner and scale up new technologies for food security,” Parajuli said.

He also appreciated India for making “considerable progress in agriculture” at a time when several other nations are struggling with food crisis.

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